It’s the strangest thing – Middle Tennessee is coming off its best season since making the jump to Division I-A. It was a season that included a first-ever bowl berth, and yet coach Rick Stockstill said his program is still three or four years away from being competitive with teams outside the Sun Belt Conference.
Yes, Stockstill applauds his team’s effort and intensity during training camp, which concludes on Saturday. But the reality for MTSU football is the fact that on Tuesday, there were only 60 scholarship players taking part in practice. That’s 25 less than coaches want to have.
The scholarship level is down anyway because of academic restrictions that came from the previous staff. Couple that with the loss of six players from a combination of injuries, dismissals and leaving for personal reasons, and MTSU is down to the number 60, according to Stockstill.
Three starters have been subtracted during training camp, including starting defensive end Sean Mosley, who surprisingly quit last week.
“You’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” Stockstill said of the depleted numbers. “We didn’t start with that many to begin with because of where we’re at with this program. Then you throw in the amount of injuries we’ve had, it’s just compounded the problem.”
But while the Blue Raider roster is watered down, expectations are at an all-time high. MTSU went 7-1 in the Sun Belt and then advanced to its first ever bowl – the Motor City – at the Division I-A level.
“We live in a microwave world,” Stockstill said of the increased expectations. “Everybody wants it now. But I said it last year, we’re at least three to four years away from building this program to where it needs to be so it can compete on a weekly basis with other conference teams.
“I understand that and I’ve been in the business long enough to understand what people on the outside expect. But when you look at it, we’ve had one winning season in five years so that means you’ve got a long way to go in building your program.”
But the players who are healthy and in camp aren’t about to write off this season. Much as the Blue Raiders snuck up on the SBC last year, they’re hoping to do the same this year.
“The guys that we have here can make plays,” senior cornerback Bradley Robinson said. “We’ve got to go into the season with what we have and I’m feeling confident with what we have.”